We’ve talked about what, exactly, a mushroom is. We’ve looked at how a mushroom grows. Now, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. What is an adaptogen? And what do adaptogenic mushrooms do? How does mushroom coffee made with Lion’s Mane and Cordyceps improve your cognitive function? How does Reishi and Chaga help you relax? And how do we get all these functional nutrients into our coffee, anyway? Let’s dive in and learn about adaptogens, mushroom chemistry, and extraction.
What is an adaptogen?
Adaptogens are chemicals that help the human body respond to a wide range of stress-inducing conditions. Practitioners of traditional medicine in China, Korea, and Japan have been incorporating medicinal mushrooms into their practice for thousands of years, but it's only recently caught on in west in the last hundred years or so. During and after WWII, Soviet scientists conducted several studies, which found that adaptogens could help reduce the initial peak of stress (the “alarm phase”) and help reduce the negative effects after a stressful episode (“the phase of exhaustion”). Basically, adaptogens help you relax, which in turns allows you to think more clearly and be more creative. More contemporary studies have confirmed that adaptogens improve adaptability and resilience to stress.
Which adaptogens can you find in mushrooms?
There are two main adaptogenic chemicals found in mushrooms: beta-glucans and triterpenes. Beta-glucans are naturally-occurring polysaccharides which can help boost your immune system by activating the complement system, which enhances the natural ability of your antibodies. Beta-glucans also show some anticarcinogenic activity by possibly reducing tumor genesis and spread.
Triterpenes are a large group of chemical compounds that share a characteristic structure of three terpene units. Within this group are many, many beneficial nutrients. Triterpenes in Reishi mushrooms, for example, may help treat chronic diabetes, asthma, insomnia, and many more conditions.
How do we extract these adaptogens?
It would be nice if you could just eat an adaptogenic mushroom and enjoy all its benefits, but there’s a problem. The valuable nutrients inside these mushrooms are trapped inside a material called chitin, which is a super-tough fiber that gives the fruiting body structure. Most people can’t digest chitin, however, which means they can’t absorb the adaptogens the chitin holds. These adaptogens are not “bioavailable.” In order to get the beta glucans and triterpenes out of the mushrooms and into your coffee, we have to extract the adaptogens using a two-part process.
Why double extraction?
We use two extraction methods at Wunderground: a hot-water extraction and an alcohol extraction. The reason is simple: beta-glucans are water-soluble, while triterpenes are alcohol-soluble. Doing a double extraction ensures that the most adaptogens make their way into our coffees and teas, and then to you.
We hope this article gives you a little bit more information and confidence when selecting the adaptogenic supplement that’s right for you. We’re a bit biased, but we think the combination of great coffee and adaptogenic mushrooms is a smart one. We hope you’ll give it a try.